If you’re are a betting man, it’s likely you didn’t wager any significant money on the Vegas Golden Knights reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in their inaugural season. Most projected the team to finish near the bottom of the league with over two dozen castoffs from around the league. Now, don’t you feel foolish?
Ryan Reaves goal at 13:21 of the second period proved to be the game and series clincher for the Golden Knights as they held on to defeat the Winnipeg Jets, 2-1, in game five. They become the third team in National Hockey League history to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in their first season. For Reeves, it was his first goal as a Golden Knight after being acquired from Pittsburgh at the trade deadline.
“We call ourselves the Golden Misfits for a reason,” said Reaves after the game. “We’ve proven everyone else wrong all season.”
“The whole mentality of this team is next man up. We’ve got a deep team, we’ve got a lot of good players. You look at the season this team had even before I got here, everybody’s stepping up. The guys that weren’t playing, myself included, we stayed ready. We had fun while we were doing it, but we worked hard so when we were called upon we were ready to go.”
Just as they did in games three and four, the Golden Knights scored the first goal early. This time, it was Alex Tuch, who gave Vegas the 1-0 lead 5:51 into the first period. Jets’ defenseman, Josh Morrissey tied the game with just under three minutes to go in the first.
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However, Golden Knights netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury is no stranger to the big moment. The three-time Stanley Cup champion stonewalled the Jets for the remainder of the game en route to his sixth Finals appearance. In total, Fleury made 31 saves on 32 shots to improve his playoff record to 12-3 this postseason.
The Jets, who finished with the second-best record in the league behind Nashville, lamented missed opportunities after snatching game one in Vegas. Captain, Blake Wheeler, entered the game as the postseason leader in assists. Teammate, Mark Scheifele was the leading goal scoring. However, both were kept off the scoresheet in game five.
“Throughout this whole thing until that buzzer blew tonight, I never thought we were out of it,” said Wheeler. “I never thought we wouldn’t find a way back into it.”
Vegas now has one more step in their improbable journey towards a Stanley Cup championship as they await the winner of the series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Washington Capitals.